Stop! Grammar Time: passed and past

I see a lot of younger writers struggling with the use of passed and past. I know they sound the same, but they have very different meanings.

To start with, past is a noun; passed is a verb.  But to complicate things, past is also a modifier; it can be an adjective or an adverb.  Let’s look at some examples.

Passed means to go by, to move beyond, some other object.

He passed her on the street.

We passed the cup from hand to hand.

She passed the test.

The usage of passed should always be as an action.

Past refers to a time and can be used as a noun:

The cataclysm happened in the distant past.

an adjective:

She feared her lover would discover the terrible secrets of her past life.

or an adverb, and this is usually where people get confused, because the adverb form of past means to go beyond:

He ran past.

The motorcycle was past them before they knew it was there.

The old man shuffled past the gate.

Still confused? Think of it this way; if there’s no verb in your phrase, then you are usually safe to use passed.  However, if you already have the verb, then you need to use past.

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Stop! Grammar Time: the misuse of ‘s

Of all the grammar mistakes out there, one of the most common is the use and misuse of ‘s.  You see it everywhere you go; shopping centres, restaurants, e-mails, forum posts.

And it drives me crazy.

Here’s a little test for you.  Is it:

a) Sarah’s Journal or

b) Sarahs Journal?

Is it:

a) Fresh bagel’s or

b) Fresh bagels?

Is it:

a) Its my party and I’ll cry if I want to, or

b) It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to?

Is it:

a) She wound up it’s mechanism or

b) She wound up its mechanism?

If your answers were a, b, b, b, then you are correct.  If not, you join a large proportion of the population who don’t understand the correct use of ‘s.

The confusion comes from the difference between the plural and the possessive.

For a plural, there is no apostrophe.  One bagel, many bagels.  One dog, many dogs.

For a possessive, you indicate the relationship by using an apostrophe.  It’s  Sarah’s Journal (whose journal is it?).

However, this being the English language, there is always an exception, which you would have seen in the previous sentence; the use of its and it’s.

It’s is not a possessive; it is a contraction, of IT and IS.  To indicate the possessive, the apostrophe is omitted; she wound up its mechanism.

The reason for this about face is that “it” does not have a plural; you can’t have many “its”.  So the possessive adopts the plain s, to remove confusion with the contraction.

Next time you use either a plural or a possessive, think about your s, and whether or not you need an apostrophe.  If you can think of a tricky usage you’d like me to clarify, please feel free to post it in the comments.

Remember; if you’re going to write, you have to get it RIGHT!